Monday, February 8, 2010

Junk food turns rats into addicts

A fascinating study gives us some insights into how drugs and food affect the brain. This study shows that after the brain gets used to getting hyper (extra) stimulated it continues to require extra stimulation just to feel normal. This study looked at how junk food – high fat, and high calorie - hijacks the brain just like Heroin and other addictive drugs. This study was from Paul Johnson at Scripps Research in Florida. He gave rats unlimited junk food. Sure enough the rats developed compulsive eating habits, ate twice the number of calories and became obese.

But he wanted to study how this junk food had effected their brains. So, next he inserted electrical wires into their pleasure centers. They could feel pleasure from an electrical signal going through these wires, but the experiment was that they had to run on a little wheel to give themselves the pleasurable signals. He was able to measure how much work they had to do on the wheel to feel good. What he found was that the rats who ate the junk food had to run on the wheel a lot longer to be satisfied with the stimulation to their brain’s pleasure center. Within only five days the junk food had caused their brains to become accustomed to high levels of pleasurable stimulation and now they needed extra electrical stimulation just to be satisfied. Sadly the effects of the junk food lasted for weeks after the junk food was stopped – just like our patients with drug addiction. This study is very important and illustrates what our patients are going through in early recovery. Their brains are so used to being stimulated at high levels that “normal” activities seem to be boring. If they aren’t very careful they can easily relapse because to them using drugs may seem like the only way to feel normal.

Dr Coleman

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